Friday, June 14, 2019

In Medias Res


I was listening to Encounter Party! (a actual play that works very hard on editing it down to less than an hour) and it was close enough to fiction that I was thinking about the differences between roleplaying and fiction, and something came to mind that might be useful for writers and GMs.

Interrupt NPCs.

That is, they have lives of their own. They're presumably doing something at the point when your PCs or protagonists interact with them. What? It doesn't have to be something big or obstructionist; a character might be there to help (an Uber driver, a doorman) but it's still the beginning of a shift to be dreaded or the middle of a weird day, or the end of a long one.

And other characters were actually doing something else. That guy at the beer store has a list as long as your arm to complete before going home for the weekend, and it's 3:55, buddy. The concierge at the hotel has just been taken to task for helping guests but at too high a cost. The gossip just wants to tell somebody in her group that she just met StupendousMan and really, it looks like he's wearing lifts.

Even the people who don't look like they're doing something significant might be doing something else in their heads, too. That professor going into her office is fuming about her placement in the published proceedings. The old guy pushing a broom is thinking about the argument he had with his wife.

So maybe part of coming up with an NPC is name, attitude, and what they were doing.

The Girl Group


So I was playing with a friend's kid while we were visiting, and the kid's name is "Hannah" which means that her family calls her "Hannah Banana." Very cute. (For the record, her sister is "Riley Smiley.")

Except I wondered if a group of women might adopt names like that, ones that reflect their powers instead of their actual names. Something like:

Kristy Fisty
The strong woman of the group, and the one who likes more than anyone else to fight.
Jade Fade
Teleporter or invisibility; you could go full Sue Storm and add force fields.
Jenny Many
Duplicator, possibly with other powers as well. Or she's Jenny Any, who acts as the face for the group because she can shapeshift into, well, anything. "I've lived as a man. They act like they have PMS. All. The. Friggin'. Time."
Margot Cargo
She can shrink something down and carry it. People too, with extra effort.
Mary Ferry
And how do you get from there to here? Or move the cops from here to there? Mary Ferry, of course.
Molly Jolly
And where would they be without the emotion controller? I mean, telepath and telekinetic as well, but she chooses to name herself for the emotion control.
Wendy Bendy
Who goes places where others can't, so long as there's not a hermetic seal? Wendy Bendy. She's very good at opening locks from the inside.

I just have this image of burly tattooed women kicking open the door and one of them shouting, "We're the effin' princesses! Hands on your heads!"

(If I were to use this idea and write them up, I'd put more thought into who does what, how many people do they really need, and what names sound distinct enough to be used as code names.)

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Helpful neighbours and racism

So it's the season for home repair. And some folks across the way (I'm near the end of a court) are having their roof redone. (Good idea; we have to do it.) And the city is predominantly white. Not all white, but our particular neighbourhood doesn't have much besides your pale northern European descendants. There's a few, but most of them live in the controlled-cost housing at the end of the lane.

Anyway, I came home at lunch (because I can, now) and one of the roofers called me over. In a concerned tone, he told me that a tall black guy had gone into my garage.

"That's my son," I told him. I can understand his surprise: I'm short, white, red-headed, and dumpy; my son is tall, black, dark-haired, and thin. My daughter takes after me, so we kind of have salt-and-pepper kids. (It was my son; he had forgotten his key, so he was getting the one hidden in the garage.)

I choose not to be offended by this casual assumption that my son is going to cause problems. I mean, if he did it again and again, yes, there's be a cause for concern. And my son looks different: if you've seen me come out of the house, you're not prepared to see him. I hope by telling the roofers who he is, that's helping educate them. And if we were in a place that was, say, fifty-per-cent non-caucasian, then I'd see it as a more systemic stereotyping.

That stereotyping does take place. I just think that gently educating people is better than beating them over the head with it.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Citizens Aiding Police


In a superhero world with lots of supers, there’d be citizen volunteers, and they should be vetted in some minor way. So there’s a national organization, the Citizens Aiding Police (CAP) for people with powers who want to help but don’t want to be heroes. (This is loosely modelled on both the Guardian Angels and the St. John's Ambulance Society.)

The “costume” is a dark green vest with reflective stripes and the letters “CAP” in big reflective letters on the back. The letters and logo are on the left breast as well. The vest has utility loops to hold a flashlight and a first aid kit. The organization might supply other equipment for a specific call, but members hold on to the vest, flashlight, and first aid kit.

Like St. John’s Ambulance, it’s a couple of weekend courses to be a member and a police background check. 

It’s more courses and tests to be a higher-ranking officer in the organization. 

You have to tell them who you are and what your powers are, because then they can match you to emergencies, but you're not fighting crime, for goodness' sake; you're helping out in case of wildfires, or earthquake, or breaks in the water main. Who can be mad at that?

In your game you use them as a source of supers who help but won’t take over. 

Because they have databases of members and powers, they can also be used as a source of information: the creepy guy who wanted to help so he could be near people to take their vril energy, the woman who stays young by harvesting a year off the lifespan of each injured person she helps (hey, she should be a nurse: no one would notice the extra deaths in a hospital or an old age home...wait, I'm devolving into Bubba Ho-Tep.) 

There might be a data leak and criminals who really really need a teleporter might say, "Hey, we can blackmail that person right there until they do what we want. It just takes holding a hostage."

Thursday, May 23, 2019


A word for the day after tomorrow; I didn't know it. (Caveat: It might be obsolete, but it's just useful enough that it should be brought back, if it is.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


SYSTEM: Any superhero

Daniel Hodge. People who don't like him call him Hodgepodge.

Meet Dan Hodge. Dan has a couple of abilities that are really useful but don't make him capable of fighting or stealing focus from the players. (Even though he's in the bodyguard business.)

First of all, Dan has Transform. He can make himself look exactly like someone else, which is useful in the bodyguard biz. But even better: Dan can shoot a gun like an Olympic-level marksman.

Sounds good, right? And you add in the fact that Dan can duplicate himself five times, well, he sounds just like a focus-stealing GM character.


Dan is a coward.

He might copy someone and send the duplicates out...but never himself. He sits in the safe house and sends the duplicates off as decoys. He can shoot (and so can his duplicates) but damage them...and they go away.

When people know that Hodgepodge is on the case, well, weapons tend to involve lots of playing cards flying through the air and giving paper cuts. Or area effect tasers.

But Dan gets by.

Except for the day when he duplicates a teenage girl, and five of his duplicates go out with the girl—

And she's specifically targeted without harming his duplicates.


That's when he comes to the PCs for help.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Today, in my head


He was sitting in his wheelchair in the sun, looking out at the grounds. She walked up to him and put herself in his line of sight, showing off the scars on her face. “Remember me?” she asked.

He studied her for a long time, and then shrugged.

“Anja Bostovech. You kidnapped me once. Captain Wonder stopped you.”

The man shrugged and half-smiled. “He did that a lot.” He half-smiled and looked at her, waiting.

“You had a plan. You were going to download my consciousness into a robot body and take advantage of my fame.”

“You want to know why? To take over the world or something,” he said. “It seemed very clear then, but the new medication...“ He shrugged again.

She shook her head. “What I want to know—” She did a pirouette so he could see the scars and the useless hand she normally kept hidden. “What I want to know is, can you still do it?”

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Mutants and Masterminds and autofill

SYSTEM: Mutants & Masterminds

I've been trying to figure out how you'd do an autofill PDF character sheet for Mutants and Masterminds, and the closest I come is an old idea from DC Heroes, where you have a worksheet version to look at various numbers and then in the final version those go away.

At first blush, it seemed simple enough. Something like Fighting is figured at two points per rank, so if you're Fighting 4, that's 8 points. And defenses are one point per rank, so it's just the number of points you spend added to the value of the appropriate attribute. Long but do-able; I wouldn't fit it into the Calculate stage of the PDF because that happens every time you change a field, but you get what I mean.

Except of course adding to Toughness save isn't done directly; it's done either by advantages (like Defensive Roll) or powers (Protection primarily).

And I almost had that figured out when I remembered Enhanced Traits.

If it were just going to be used on the desktop, maybe stuff could be added with dialog boxes, but even PDF Expert doesn't render the dialog boxes for PDF on my phone. So I think the best thing to do is have a worksheet with space for all the various points, so you can see what adds to which value.
The aggregate free-form nature of powers is also a problem. I'm fixing it with terminology: The part I think of as a power is called an effect, like Affliction, Protection, Enhanced Trait, and so on. (In fact, I have Enhanced Trait broken down into several effects.) The conglomeration or aggregate is called a power (alternate effects all go in to make a single power). The sample archetypes have varying numbers of powers:

ArchetypeNumber of powersMax effects in one
Battlesuit1 (Battlesuit array) or 8 (counting “Battlesuit” as a power)3 (Tactical Computer) or 8 (various Senses)
Crimefighter56 (Utility belt)
Energy Controller64 (Energy Control)
Martial Artist0
Mystic36 (Spellcasting)
Paragon43 (Invulnerability)
Powerhouse43 (Super-Stamina)
Psychic54 (Telepathy)
Shapeshifter11 (Shapeshift)
Speedster53 (Super-speed)
Warrior24 (Aquatic) or 8 (different Senses)
Weapon Master25 (Super-hearing senses)

I can't even imagine a page layout that allows either the possibility of 8 powers with 8 effects each or 1 or 2 powers and 28 advantages (the number that the Martial Artist has). The Basic Heroes Handbook compromises by leaving space for four powers and some effects...And I might have to compromise, too, saying, great, four powers max, five effects each.
Seems a shame not to be able to do the Crimefighter, though, but life is life. Maybe after I figure out how to do this, I'll be able to wedge it in there.
Anyway, the idea is that there is a separate worksheet...let's say there's a button that makes it visible; select the Create/Edit radio button and you can see it; select the Play button and it goes away with the new values displayed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

To fight the unwinnable fight


I'm currently in a superhero game and it's interesting because the GM and I share many traits, so now I get to see what they're like from the other side of the GM screen.

Some of them I don't much like. And I am guilty of inflicting these things on players.

Aside: I have ADHD (as you might have guessed from the way this blog moves in fits and starts) and one of the things I have noticed with my children and me is that the good really has to outweigh the bad or the ADHD person has a bad impression. Like, you have to have three compliments for every criticism in order for the person to feel it's even-handed, and a higher ratio for them to actually feel positively about the event.

So I might be biased.

However, in four sessions of superhero gaming, we have yet to win. It's Champions and five to eight players, so that's only two fights. (Cue Champions bashing, but I wouldn't have joined the campaign if I didn't accept the system.)

And what galls me and takes the fun away from me is that we won neither of those fights. The villains decided they were done and left.

Now, I can come up with narrative reasons why that's true. Maybe:

  • The GM is showing us that it's a dangerous world.
  • The GM is acquainting us with the heavy hitters of this area of the world.
  • The GM is trying to make sure that we, the players, work together as a team. (And there is a certain "You do a stupid thing, you don't have plot immunity" vibe.)

But still..four sessions and from a player standpoint it feels like we haven't succeeded at anything heroic yet.

In fact, many of our characters are so laden with power dependencies and activation rolls, that a set of 15- rolls that look impressive (15- is roughly 95%) takes three rolls, so the actual chance of success is about 86%, less if there are other modifiers that place a minus (a 15- with -5 is now a 10- and that is only about half the chance to succeed).

So there's a lesson there: let them succeed.

I'm not saying they have to succeed at everything. God, no: running D&D for the first time reminded me of some joys of failing: The glorious moment when your clever plan fails because somebody rolled a 1.

But if you go back and look at the source material, the heroes usually have some kind of victory:

  • They save the innocent.
  • They capture the henchmen (who will no doubt be on the street again by tomorrow).
  • They prevent the theft of the Jade Cloud of the Phoenix, while not preventing the theft of the ancient Imperial Chinese instruction manual, so the bad guy doesn't have it but the heroes don't know how to use it to stop the bad guy.

These might be partial victories but they are victories. And they're pretty consistent: the good guys win somehow most of the time—over half the time, maybe ninety percent of the time, maybe better. Actual total losses are generally reserved for the darkest moment, right before the climactic battle.

I'm reading Gail Simone's Domino right now, and Domino wins in some fashion most of the time. In a dozen issues, the bleakest moment I can remember was when she had no control over her luck, and even there, the issue ended with her finding someone (Shang-Chi) who could help her. Domino has some reasons for being so down on herself: not everything works, and sometimes it works the wrong way. And really, you're not going to confuse Domino with Superman as far as heroism goes. But there's usually a partial success.

In story-telling terms, the issues and fights are usually "no, but" or "yes, and": "No, you lose but there's a way out of it."

A "No, and" answer is one that feels like, "No, you don't win, and here's something that makes it worse."

Maybe the ADHD makes me more sensitive here. But I feel like in four sessions, you should be able to point to two wins.

And that's something that I can take way from this as a GM and occasional adventure writer.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Overheard, in my head


There's this superhero world:

"I'd rather not be rescued by you."

"It's a rescue."

"You have fewer than five adventures. Statistically, you're going to
muff this one, and I don't want to be your victim."

"So you'd...rather stay a prisoner of the blood-drinking
shape-changing supervillain?"

"My odds are better."

Maybe it's a back cover blurb for the adventure I haven't written yet.